Feelings, Actions and Thoughts

triangleWarning: This is a random, rambling, ruminating reflection! I’ll start with a painful and shameful confession. For the first two decades of my marriage, I told my dear wife repeatedly: “Feelings don’t matter.” (OK, I understand if you want to throw stones!) I believed this because of my misguided understanding that as a Christian we need to do what we should do, regardless of how we feel. I based this on Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34 and Lk 9:23, since Jesus states explicitly that anyone who would follow him MUST deny himself. I extrapolated this to mean that “your feelings don’t matter…deny yourself and follow Christ.” It is only the grace of God that my wife did not leave me. For the record, today I tell her, “Your feelings DO matter. Please share them with me.”

I trivialized feelings because I misunderstood the nature of God in that though God is One (Dt 6:4; Mk 12:29), yet He is three Persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; Eph 4:4-6; Rev 1:4-5). Since we are made in the image of the triune God, I schematized this as follows:
















A healthy, balanced Christian life embraces all three aspects of our being: heart, mind and will. But since we are fallen, flawed and fallible beings, we invariably are unbalanced, become unbalanced, and would need frequent correctives. At the risk of oversimplification and generalization let’s arbitrarily divide the world as having three kinds of churches.

“Doing” churches. Churches like UBF strongly emphasize mission and what we do. Then there is a tendency for the mind/thinking and heart/feeling to become underdeveloped. Critical thinking and emotion may be ignored or disregarded. Often this happens unnoticed, as I did not realize for the longest time just how horrible it came across when I said, “Feelings don’t matter.” I thought I was being spiritual and holy in carrying out my duty and doing what I should as a Christian, regardless of anything and everything else. To me action and obedience was far more important than critical thinking or emotional expression.

“Feeling” churches. Charismatic churches emphasize emotion as the predominant expression of one’s faith. The fallout potentially could be that we sacrifice reflection and intellectual pursuit, and we might act based on how we feel more than based on what is good and right. In the worse case scenario it could result in expressions of emotion without substance or action.

“Thinking” churches. These may be churches that emphasize sound doctrine and Bible study as crucial and fundamental for the faith. The result may be inadequate action or a disregard for emotion, i.e., a dead orthodoxy. Being a cerebrally inclined person, I minimized feelings and emotions. Though such Christians may be confident and sure that they are living by the Book, those who know them simply want to throw the book at them.

We Christians are a mixed bag. By God’s mercy and grace, I believe we should embrace our being in totality by having:




Right beliefs

Right practices

Right emotions

FeelingsThoughtActionsWe Christians should be generous toward those who are different from us. It is too easy to criticize someone who lives out their Christianity in ways we may not agree with. Cessationists may accuse charismatics of shallow emotionalism. Charismatics may accuse cessationists of joyless orthodoxy. Let us rather be gracious toward one another.

What is the predominant expression of your Christianity? How are you doing in balancing heart, mind and will?


  1. big bear

    Ben…great post…I experinced the same thing when it came to feelings…this led to abusive behavior and crushing the feelings of my wife and children and divorce…I learned this mentality from my shepherds in UBF…God has restored my conscience for all believers and my love for people….like BK it takes time to heal from the emotional and abusive effects and I can see you read our book

  2. forestsfailyou

    Was this inspired by my comment about the sermons in part 3?

  3. big bear

    Forests….I see that Ben sees what we all see and have experienced in UBF….in UBF there are two worlds…one in what you preach and the system of UBF that is hidden from new comers but unfolds in time…after 27 years I figured it out in tragedy and pain…but happy I was freed to restore and help my children and to get balanced and healthy…I earnestly pray for real healing of UBF so future families and students may not have to go through the pain and abuse and the lack of feelings and love for people

  4. Ben, you raise numerous good talking points here. And by the way, thanks for keeping the discussions going during Lent! I’ve read through the other articles, and there’s a lot to catch up on. So I’ll just start here.

    You are correct, ubf is indeed about “doing”. We can see this when we examine what ubf teaches in the heritage. ubf focuses a lot on behavoir modification. However I cannot say that corporately ubf is a “church focused on right doing or Christian doing”. The heritage ideology has to be rooted out and renounced as wrong until everyone is free.

    But in an ironic sense, ubf is often about “thinking”. We all spent so many hours sitting on folding chairs doing nothing. I wasted so much time just sitting there in meeting after meeting. This is not “right thinking or Christian thinking”. My time in ubf was a lot of meditating on trying to figure out how the bible justified our ideologies and slogans.

  5. Dr. Ben, thanks for starting this discussion. I think that christians often tend to neglect the fact that people are extremely complex entities marked by the triumvirate of orthos you listed. Jesus undoubtedly displayed all of these characteristics in perfect balance. The question is, how can we acknowledge our individual shortcomings in said areas and grow together as a community? Also I have some objections to the labels you applied to the individual members of the trinity and your ensuing characterizations of cessationists and charismatics. (I think that the difference is due to much more than how each group views the incorporation of emotion or intellect within a worship setting.) Maybe a comment for another time though.

  6. Good question DavidW. “How can we acknowledge our individual shortcomings in said areas and grow together as a community?”

    In my observation, and in the ubf community context, one of the first steps is to begin to face the facts and to understand some fundamental human psychology.

    For example, we need a healthy dose of understanding Leon Festinger’s 1950’s cognitive dissonance theory. We ubf shepherds rarely cared about people’s beliefs because we knew what Festinger knew: change a person’s behavior and his/her beliefs will be changed.

    The problem is that we are human beings. We become less and less comfortable when our beliefs don’t match our behavior, and we can only tolerate so much of the behavior modification. In time, our human nature cannot withstand the contradiction between our perceived world and our real world. We humans can only change our thinking so much until our emotions kick in.

    Not only ubf, but all of Christendom would benefit from understanding these things more deeply.

  7. Dave, I agree with this: “Also I have some objections to the labels you applied to the individual members of the trinity and your ensuing characterizations of cessationists and charismatics.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/04/26/feelings-actions-and-thoughts/#comment-13041

    The mystery of the Trinity will always be beyond our characterization and our knowing. Yet he can be known to our complete satisfaction and fulfillment.

    Brian, I agree that UBF theology has gone off into unhealthy and abusive tangents (including the enforcement, imposition, and [over]emphasis on the doing and the thinking, while neglecting the feeling). Interestingly, this quite fit in with my own natural personality disposition of being what I would refer to myself as a cerebral, “non-PDA” sort of person who simply loves to live (impractically) with my head in the clouds and oftentimes even without my feet touching the ground. That’s why my wife reminds me often to “live out the sermon I just preached on Sun!” That’s why I need her.

    Though UBF should be responsible for her faulty theology, yet I will not blame her, but rather see God’s sovereign and mysterious hand in allowing me to encounter such a church–flawed as she was/is–all of my days.

    • Ben, I do not blame ubf leaders for flawed theology. We will all stand before God with flawed theology. I do however blame ubf leaders for not correcting the flaws that have been exposed for decades, flaws that not only allow an environment for various kinds of abuses, but flaws that have deeply wounded families.

  8. Though even a child can know God, yet God is complex. Here are a few quotes I heard from John Armstrong’s lecture to UBF on “Our Love is Too Small”:

    “If you understood (God), it would not be God.” St. Augustine

    “God, the eternal Presence, does not permit Himself to be held. Woe to the man so possessed that he thinks he possesses God!” Martin Buber (1878-1965).

    So, as you correctly pointed out, my triumvirate descriptive of the Trinity is clearly and vastly inadequate, yet by His grace, we are able to know Him quite clearly and adequately.

  9. Here is a quick lesson in cognitive dissonance. ubf is a grand experiment in cognitive dissonance that has failed.

    • Joe Schafer

      The video is interesting. Cognitive dissonance is closely related to the notion of “sunk costs.” People who have invested a great deal of time, energy and resources into a project that has failed need to justify their investment. They will try to make themselves believe that the experience (a) was far more rewarding than it actually was, and (b) that against all odds their investment will still be successful and reap great rewards. The alternative — becoming honest with themselves and admitting that they made a big mistake — is exceedingly painful.

  10. big bear

    I hear the same thing…we are all sinners and all theology is flawed and the church is utterly sinful and UBF is changing…I agree with all this and this is why so many families and students are hurting in UBF….God wants us to repent and change….why keep living in the abuse…tell this to families are hurting because UBF leaders ignore obvious abuses and treat people like crap with manipulation, control, and unbiblical ideology…..as Christians we can denounce such evil practices and learn to love families and the body of Christ

    • big bear

      It seems that UBF is concerned only in numbers and saving face at the cost of families and the body of Christ

  11. Joe Schafer

    Brian, thanks for this rambling, rumination reflection. I found it refreshing, riveting, and rousing.

    I noticed something has been omitted from your diagram and discussion: The body.

    This is not a criticism, just an observation. For some strange reason, we (modern western Christians) have gotten so comfortable speaking of the religious dimensions of our life in terms that are completely divorced from our creaturely physicality. As if we could be fully functioning, healthy Christians without any bodies at all. (Except maybe using our bodies as vehicles for “doing.”) Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with this?

    Just sayin.

    • Great point Joe. I always wonder about the human composition… are 3 parts? 4 parts? How is soul different than spirit? I’ve always thought the body was included as “strength” in the love with all your heart, soul, mind, strength text.

    • I think Ben was including “body” in the “doing” part, but not sure.

    • Joe Schafer

      Oops. For some reason I thought Brian wrote this. Sorry, Ben!

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes, under Ben’s taxonomy, the only place where I can see the body fitting in is under “doing.”

      The gospel has enormous implications for the body. Paul called our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit (1Co 6:19) and urged us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices for “spiritual” (not opposed to physical) worship (Ro 12:1). Evangelical Protestants have tended to reduce these teachings to two things: working hard to get the job done, and not sinning by consuming drugs & alcohol or engaging in sexual immorality. Very utilitarian. But the NT teachings about the body are much richer than that. The redemption of the body is a core teaching of Christianity and a central message of Easter. It seems to me that our theology of the body has become weak or nonexistent.

    • I agree Joe. I’m discovering there is much that Catholicism can add to the Protestant conversations on a number of topics. Our view of our bodies is one area.

      For example, even though I don’t agree with some of what the Catholic Courage ministry is doing, I am far more encouraged by the Catholic response to LGBT issues than the Protestant response, which has been overwhelmingly negative and caustic. At least us Catholics don’t freak out over gay people and are willing to enter into the conversation.

      My next article will spark conversations about the theology of the body I’m guessing. I will be submitting two book reviews, of “Washed and Waiting” and “God and the Gay Christian”.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, you read my mind. Yes, the Roman Catholic church has a much richer theology of the body. In general, they pay greater attention to the physical aspects of faith and worship, in keeping with their understanding of sacrament.

      For the time being, I am opting out of most discussions and controversies surrounding homosexuality. Not because they aren’t important. They are very important. I just don’t feel that I’m qualified to opine about homosexuality until I get a better understanding of God’s designs for heterosexuality. Recently I read Jean Vanier’s classic book Man and Woman, God Made Them:


      It’s a fascinating look at people with severe mental disabilities how the L’Arche community deals with their sexual expression. This book made me think about the spiritual dimensions of sex which are so poorly understood. It made me realize how little I actually know about what healthy sexuality means.

    • I’ve been impressed with the writings of the late Henri Nouwen and also with what I’ve read about L’Arche ministry.

      This quote struck me deeply:

      “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” — Henri Nouwen

      So I too have much to learn about issues and topics related to LGBT people and marriage, etc. I don’t have all the answers, I just know that I am compelled to enter this arena and examine such things in light of Scripture and Tradition and my own faith.

      Strangely after leaving ubf behind, I was intensely drawn into discussions on the margins of society– athiests, homosexuals, and numerous odd religious people. I am finding that these conversations must be had, no matter how messy or ugly, because such people exist all around us. I’ve had discussions with the marginalized among ubf people–there are athiests, homosexuals, suicidal and all kinds of people in the midst of the ubf community, and most church communities.

      Nouwen’s example is one of my guides to living outside the camp.

  12. Joe Schafer

    I agree; these are discussions that need to be had. The church ought to be THE safe place where people with honest questions dialogue with one another in a loving manner to work out what they believe and why. But in my experience, churches are the least safe places to talk about tough issues. Even raising a question can make you an outcast. That is deplorable.

    And Nouwen rocks.

  13. Your caution above is good Joe. One of my corrections I’m trying to make is to avoid entering these discussions with “all the answers”. I want to enter the discussions seeking to make a safer place for all of us to be our human, authentic selves. It is clear to me that both Scripture and Spirit give us permission to do that. Whatever we think Scripture is telling us about various issues, I hear a loud and clear mandate from Scripture to enter these arenas without fear or apprehension.

    This is all relevant to the gist of my second book, Goodness Found: The Butterfly Narratives. I am strongly convicted that Jesus liberates us so that we can go to the marginalized. We are free to “touch lepers”. To go to the “ends of the world” may mean to go to the edges of society and discover the margins of our own humanity. And we who follow Christ are not only free to do so, I believe it is our mission.

  14. Joe, thanks for finding my random, rambling, ruminating reflection refreshing, riveting, and rousing!

    Joe, Brian, Addressing the body is a great point, which I did not think of. In response though, might not our heart (emotion), mind (cognition) and actions (volition) be all communicated through our body?

    I am reminded of Will Smith saying in the movie Hitch that 60% of our communication is expressed through our body language, 30% through the tone of our voice, and only 10% through our words. (See http://www.ubfriends.org/2011/12/28/4285/)

    You might have seen this already regarding Pope John Paul’s excellent “Theology of the Body” as popularized by Christopher West: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxsZ7jm0GUE

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I hadn’t seen that video before. It is definitely worth watching. Those who say “Catholics don’t study the Bible” don’t know what they are talking about. This guy takes ubf messengers to school.

  15. Dr. Ben, I totally agree that we need to find a way to honor and respect how we are each made differently; I’m fairly certain that none of us will achieve a perfect balance of the ortho characteristics this side of heaven (try convincing a Methodist of that though). So we need to strive to love and understand one another.

    That being the case, I think it’s extremely important that we view God rightly (although some would like to argue from an apophatic point of view thereby indicating what God is not, which is also valid). Anyway this my long-winded and overly polite way of saying that I strongly disagree with you about the characteristics of the Trinitarian God you listed.

    For instance, the Holy Spirit is not mainly concerned with elements of pathos, although this is a by-product of his work. Primarily, he is concerned with disseminating and uncovering truth (John 16:13). He reminds us of the very words of Jesus so that we are kept from error. Although the Spirit expresses grief over man’s plight, both Father and Son display emotion as well. God the Father is jealous and Jesus wept, for instance.

    My take is that the emotionality associated with the Spirit is a modern sort of hijacking of his attributes. In 1 Cor 14, Paul says that if anything, the Spirit should bring order, not the chaotic and extactic aberrations associated with their worship services; these aberrations were most likely artifacts from their pagan practices.

    Also, the Father is much more than just a planner or central processing unit for he is intimately involved in every aspect of our daily lives (as well as the affairs of nonbelievers) via his divine providence. He was also, through his Spirit, directly involved in the raising of Christ from the dead (Eph 1:20, Rom 8:11).

    Ok, stepping down from my soapbox now.

  16. Dave, I have to say again that I emphatically agree with you in that each (sub)categorization of the Father, Son and Spirit is totally inadequate, incomplete, simplistic, almost blasphemous, as though any human can categorize God and make Him fit our own conceptual understanding.

    Clearly, each of the attributes I listed under Father, Son and Spirit also applies to each member of the Godhead.

    This simplistic triumvirate categorization is primarily for us to hopefully help us understand that we are made in the mysterious and complex and unknowable image of a triune God.

    This, I think, has been helpful to me, and to a few people that I have shared this with, since we humans are also complex beings, while we tend to carricature others ad infinitum: “Oh, he’s just a Pharisee,” for instance! :-)

  17. So for instance, equating FATHER with mind, SON with will, and SPIRIT with heart… It seems obvious that the Father who plans also has will and heart, the Son who executes also has mind and heart, and the Spirit who indwells and sustains also has mind and will. The complexity is endless, I think. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/04/26/feelings-actions-and-thoughts/#comment-13071

  18. I see the overall point you’re trying to make and it is valid, that is God is extremely complex and perhaps beyond description. But at the same time, your article seems to communicate altogether the opposite point; we can succinctly characterize the primary attributes of the members of the trinity.

    I primarily took issue with the descriptives applied to the Spirit because they appear to be undue, modern impositions. I don’t understand where else these characteristics come from and thus I don’t think that it’s a helpful way of describing Him. But please enlighten me if I’m off course here.

  19. Dave, do you think it might be because you are likely more of a cerebral, intellectual, word, reason, logos-inclined sort of person (as I think I am), that you might seem to view Spirit-inclined people as those who could “go astray” more easily than one who is grounded in the Word? (I realize that a long question is a horrible question! Sorry.)

    On the other hand, emotionally-inclined people (which I think neither you are I are), might have little issue with the attributes of the Spirit as “heart, emotion, feeling,” etc?

    Don’t you think that “Word people” think spirit/emotion can easily become aberrant?

    Don’t you think that “Spirit people” think that “Word people” are just rigid, inflexible, critical, dry propositional-based people?

    Despite my questions above, I do truly eschew and despise dichotomous thinking and communication. But I posed them in dichotomous ways for the sake of argument, simplification and clarification.

  20. Joe Schafer

    My initial reaction to Ben’s list was similar to David’s. I thought that it bordered on modalism. But I also realize that Ben was offering it to us as ideas to mull over, not as definitive statements about who God really is or what the persons of the Trinity actually do.

  21. Joe Schafer

    Also, I thought that, if the purpose is to understand what a healthy, well balanced Christian life looks like, then we ought to focus mainly on the Son. Because he is the Word made flesh.

  22. Excellent points here DavidW:

    “For instance, the Holy Spirit is not mainly concerned with elements of pathos, although this is a by-product of his work. Primarily, he is concerned with disseminating and uncovering truth (John 16:13). He reminds us of the very words of Jesus so that we are kept from error. Although the Spirit expresses grief over man’s plight, both Father and Son display emotion as well. God the Father is jealous and Jesus wept, for instance.”

    I greatly appreciate this respect for Scripture. I also appreciate Ben’s though provoking article.

    I haven’t really commented on the content you present here Ben, because this article induces mild PTSD symptoms in me :) I just get sick to my stomach when I see any kind of diagram of the bible text… I had an overdose of such diagrams during my ubf years, when we over-analyzed the bible text and dissected it like an alien creature.

  23. My one comment on your numerous diagrams and charts Ben is that we should check orthodoxy, orthopraxy and orthopathy with some other “ortho” words.

    A few comments ago, forests raised a great question, something like “Can a belief be a sin?” I think we should expand this discuss to explore how or if we sin with our mind, heart and will… which comes full circle to the issue of adding in our body.

    I’m no longer overly concerned with “right thinking”, but I love to think! I don’t care so much about “right behavior”, but I see the need to keep each other accountable! And I don’t accept that there is any one “right feeling”, but my emotions are growing back!

    For more important to me now are the following:

    being orthoscopic – having the right proportions in how we view something

    being orthoepic – having the right pronunciation and articulation of language

    being orthopsychiatric – having the right concern for mental or other disorders in youth

    [oh by the way we just surpassed 13,000 comments a few comments ago!]

  24. Dr. Ben, as you know, I originally encountered God through a charismatic denomination, the Pentecostal church. Though I am a cerebral person now, I’m still entrenched in a desire to experience God through emotional channels because at the core I am a deeply emotional being, as well are.

    That being said, I feel as though both sides (cerebral and emotional) need to be deeply involved in the study of Scripture. The cerebralists need to constantly be challenged by the emotional vulnerability and openness of the Trinitarian God. And emo Christians need to submit to the Holy Spirit’s desire to produce in them the fruit of self-control as well discernment marked by deep wisdom. In all of this, as you said at the end of your article, we shouldn’t demonize each other but rather have dialogue and seek to lovingly balance each other out. We are called to love God with every aspect of our being and we should do everything we can to help each other do to do so.

    But thinking about the work of the Spirit a bit more, I believe that His net effect is to produce in us deep, divine joy for He is instrumental in bringing us into an intimate relationship with the Trinitarian God. As the Westminster Catechism states, part of our chief end is to enjoy God forever.

  25. MJ Peace

    Here is a quote from a wonderful book that I am reading now. I thought it was related to this article.

    “God created feelings. Sure, like anything else, they can be misused and abused. But the intent and purpose of feelings came from God. Since He created emotions, why is it difficult to believe that He Himself has emotions? The Spirit is grieved when there is a breach in relationship, whether it be relationship with God or relationship with other people. When we are disunified, unloving, hateful, jealous, gossipy, etc., that is when we grieve the Spirit of God. And since He is the creator of emotions, I believe that the Spirit grieves more deeply that we can even understand… I believe that if we truly cared about the Holy Spirit’s grief, there would be fewer fights, divorces and splits in our churches.”
    – Forgotten God by: Francis Chan

    God has feelings too and everyone should read this book it really is opening my eyes to the Holy Spirit.

  26. Thanks, MJ. As a stoic introverted self-reflective Chinaman (who still has a hard time telling my kids I love them!), it is baffling and confounding to me that I am becoming more and more emotional and expressive of all my emotions.

    From time to time I like to ask others what a Christian friend taught me: SASHET. I would ask others to authentically and transparently share whether they are:

    * Sad
    * Angry
    * Scared
    * Happy
    * Excited or
    * Tender

    I never would have liked such an emo exercise even half a dozen years ago. But today I’m more than happy to hear anyone articulate and express their deepest felt emotions and sentiment.

  27. Here’s an excellent quote from Richard Rohr addressing the dichotomous dualistic divisive disconnect of churches that brought to mind this post:

    “Most head churches do not touch the heart, most heart churches do not bother with the head, and almost all of them ignore the body as if of no account.”

    “Further, the head churches are usually not contemplative, the heart churches have little discrimination or training in the more subtle emotions whereby we see truthfully, and the body people have either left the church or, even worse, stay in the pew but do not take it seriously as anything real, urgent, or wonderful.

    (Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, pg. 14.)